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Copyright (c) 2008 UC Hastings College of the Law 
Hastings International and Comparative Law Review

ARTICLE: Symptoms of Trauma Among Political Asylum Applicants: Don't be Fooled+

+ This article is a companion piece with Karen Musalo and Marcelle Rice's article.

Summer, 2008

Hastings International and Comparative Law Review

31 Hastings Int'l & Comp. L. Rev. 725


By Stuart L. Lustig, MD, MPH*


I. What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Since 1981, mental health clinicians have recognized Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a psychiatric disorder that comprises a constellation of symptoms directly resulting from trauma. 1 PTSD is diagnosed by psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric social workers, marriage and family therapists, and other mental health clinicians who have spent sufficient time with the trauma survivor to elicit the symptoms. There are also many standardized interviews and survey instruments, used commonly in research settings, that can also generate this diagnosis. 2

PTSD occurs only in trauma survivors, and, by definition, the trauma must be perceived as life threatening, and in many cases actually is life threatening. Typical examples include torture, physical and sexual assaults, natural disasters, and motor vehicle accidents. As a result of the trauma(s), the survivor suffers from symptoms such as unwanted memories, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, or flashbacks of the event.

Because these reminders of the original trauma are often quite disturbing, PTSD sufferers go to great lengths to avoid triggering any sort of reminder, and will therefore, by definition, shun places, activities, or people who remind them of what happened. For example, a victim of an armed robbery may never again walk along the same street (i.e., avoidance of the place). A survivor of a highway car accident may completely avoid freeway driving (i.e., avoidance of the activity). A survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of the police may avoid police, or anyone dressed similarly (i.e., ...
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